A series of extracts from the essay Bodies of Work: Notes on aspects of Fraser Taylor’s Practice
Fraser Taylor first achieved prominence with The Cloth, the highly successful interdisciplinary design studio he and three fellow students from the Printed Textiles department of the Royal College of Art set up in London in 1983. Their collective intention was to facilitate movement between fine art and design projects, in work much influenced by artists including Matisse, Picasso, Léger and Hockney. Part of a generation of artists, designers and musicians energized by the DIY ethos of late-Seventies Punk, The Cloth’s highly distinctive work was featured in key magazines of the period: The Face, I-D and the American Interview. In an era before the web and social media, the international reach and influence of these magazines was inestimable, particularly at a time when London was considered a locus of new creativity comparable to that of its Swinging Sixties heyday. Over a five-year period The Cloth worked with clients in Europe, America and Japan, producing textile designs for fashion designers including Calvin Klein and Yves St Laurent; graphics, illustrations and corporate identity work for clients such as Condé Nast and Wolff Olins; and record sleeve artwork for pop bands including Altered Images, Spandau Ballet and The Bluebells.
Notwithstanding The Cloth’s success, ultimately the pressure of international demand became overwhelming, and in 1988 they disbanded, each going on to forge a separate career. From this point Taylor concentrated solely on his fine art practice, his work becoming more gestural and open to chance effects.
In June 1988 Taylor encountered Roy Oxlade’s paintings for the first time at the Odette Gilbert Gallery in London. Enthralled by the work’s energy and seductive colour, he soon after attended Oxlade’s painting and drawing Summer School in Tunbridge Wells: a vital encounter, in which the older artist’s deeply-considered approach both confirmed and expanded upon much of what Taylor already felt in relation to his own image-making. Their meeting came soon after The Cloth had disbanded. David Band had recently moved to Australia, and Taylor was struggling to find a community in which to share ideas. He recalls that Oxlade and his artistic partner and wife Rose Wylie discussed with him their interest in harnessing the naïve or uneducated mark, and how this corresponded with his own thinking.
Oxlade had trained with the influential painter David Bomberg (1890-1957), and Taylor recalls him talking about Bomberg’s interest in paint, how he used it in a very pure and crude way, engaging with its physicality, directness and immediacy.
Taylor’s paintings of the early 1990s often centre upon a predominant structural shape, within which are placed smaller components; some ambiguous, others recognisable as flowers, ceramic vessels, chairs and boats. The motifs are drawn predominantly with the brush, wet-in-wet; or with thick charcoal that furrows the paint surface. Essentially abstract, the life of the work is in its sumptuous colour and layers of loosely applied pigment.
Towards the end of the Nineties Taylor began to incorporate pieces of fabric into his paintings. His reason was initially pragmatic: realising one day in the studio that he had run out of collage material, he began to cut up the clothes he had changed out of before commencing work. Pieces were then adhered to the canvas, and in developing the composition Taylor followed the garments’ seams, tracing the lines of hems and lapels so that many formal decisions were effectively eliminated: he felt it important to follow the shapes in the garment, not to tamper with its shape. The pieces of clothing soaked up Taylor’s oil paint, making the surface more malleable and easily workable.
Drawing is fundamental to Taylor’s practice, its importance inculcated during his studentship at Glasgow School of Art. Ninety percent of his drawings are from life, the rest from memory or photographic sources, and very occasionally from imagination.
The act of drawing, of making marks through which one strives to encapsulate an essence of the seen and the felt whilst avoiding predetermined effect, demands the adoption of a kind of unlearning. Often in Taylor’s work one senses an endeavour to somehow trick the drawn mark into an unpredictable result, by catching the mechanics of the process off-guard. In preference to brush or pen he often draws with twigs of various sizes dipped into black ink. The resultant blunting of facility produces an inconsistent, fractured or broken line. In a group of drawings of the male nude from 2012 the figures are disjointed, fragmentary and incomplete, as though made from a series of rapid glimpses whilst the body was in transit, or as the artist circumnavigated the model. They convey the poignancy of momentary intimacy, of both presence and absence.
© Ian Massey 2017
The full essay is published in STEIDL-WERK No. 24: Rose Wylie and Fraser Taylor Collisions, published by Steidl.